Ellen C. Zwarthoff studied biochemistry at the Free University in Amsterdam and received her Master's degree in 1976. She next investigated RNA sequences that are of strategic importance for the replication and translation of Alfalfa Mosaic Virus, a plant virus with an RNA genome at the University of Leiden, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Wisconsin. She received her PhD cum laude in 1980. In 1980 and 1981 she was a postdoc at the University of Amsterdam. In 1982 she moved to the Department of Pathology of Erasmus MC. Presently she is Professor of Molecular Pathology in this Department.
Her current research is aimed at bladder cancer biomarkers that predict disease course or that can be used for primary diagnosis or early detection of recurrent disease in urine. Research projects are funded by Erasmus MC, the Dutch Cancer Society, the European Union, ZonMW and MDxHealth.
Ellen Zwarthoff is the 2014 recipient of the Dominique Chopin award from the European Society for Urological research. In 2018 she became an Honorary Member of the International Bladder Cancer Network.